mercredi 7 janvier 2015

[edX] Week 5 - Assessment

This week, the course (11.132x Design and Development of Educational Technology) is all about assessment. Assessments in the current form, the short term future and the "desired" future are explored through series of discussions with experts such as James Paul Gee or  Bob Mislevy. Students are invited to compare a traditional quiz to games (Radix Endeavor and Galactic Mappers), design an a assessment and improve their pitch by including progress measurement components.

Radix Endeavor

The interview with James Paul Gee introduces the idea of the future of the assessment and use of games as one of alternative assessment and learning methods. However, the interview is a relatively common discussion on engaging students, seamless continuous assessment and multimodal non linear learning. 

A game, Radix Endeavor, is also mentioned as one of the efforts in this direction. It is a browser flash based MMOG (Massive Multiplayer Online Game) specifically designed to promote learning of sciences, math and engineering. Since I have never heard of this game, I have decided to try it out and play a little. I have played around 2-3 hours and got bored. It was really extremely boring. I was not able to immediately identify the problem and it took me a few weeks to get to the root cause. 

Radix is well designed with relatively low level but still usable graphics. It has some sort of a plot, quests, maps, agents and more. On the surface, it has everything (except quality of graphics) a good game should have. However, when I have played the game it felt like: “How exciting! What is next? Flowers?...again Flowers? Now triangles…Again triangles?” There is no competition, no movement and no development of the avatar. If we compare this to a relatively popular recent game such as League of Angels, it lacks one of the major aspects: it evolves too slowly and has a very low level of complexity. The challenges are artificial and are simply plugged into the game without much consideration.  It does not feel “natural”, it feels like and looks like an exercise in math inside the game when we need to combine triangles in order to create windows in one of the quests. Or when a player is asked to measure x number of plants and use the tool y to compute the average of the plant size that you should report to Mr.Someone. Of course, there is nothing wrong in having additional challenges, such as math problems or trivia questions (like in the League of Angels) in order to gain more points, but the main plot in a quest game has to be coherent fluid and rapidly evolving at least in the beginning - it is the hook of the game. Malcolm Bauer calls such approach as "careful connections." In this game, they are barely existent.

Graphics is another completely different aspect. I do understand that the game we are talking about is educational but the avatar is too simple and does not look much like a hero (left). After all, the plot suggests that there are enemies and that the player needs to save children and save knowledge. At this time it should look like a stereotypical but nevertheless much more catching and popular avatar of contemporary games (League of Angels Russian version male warrior avatar on the right). The terrain is made of a set of villages that all look-alike with little distinctive futures and low level graphics(again). Overall the game has little to no features that could attract(hook) and retain a hardcore or even a casual gamer. Just a short look bellow demonstrates major differences between worlds of Radix and League of Angles. 

Possibly, Radix graphics could be acceptable in a game with thousands of simultaneously active players large world, buildings, armies, enemies and more, as we often see in strategy based MMOG. But in Radix, there are no players?! The game is simply dead! No one in the chat and no one walks around. This means that there is no social interaction for a single player. In the unlikely scenario of an entire class playing at the same time, the interaction does not provide new sources of learning: one can talk to friends in the class online or offline, in-class or after. In short, there is no worldwide connection, no community of learning and thus no coaching and no sharing of information. 

Similarly, there is no way, to compare to others and to develop our own avatar in a tangible manner. Maybe because there are no others, but I was unable to find a way to make friends, to look at their stats, to compare with someone and to compete with someone against a computer or another player. The final nail in the coffin is that there is no incentive to come back: no leagues or associations with others, no bonuses, no developments or changes when you are not online, nothing that says to the player: “You will miss something important if you do not come back every day.”

In short, the game looks outdated, half-baked and not as nearly engaging and addictive as contemporary popular games. As a result, it loses one of the most important values: motivation. Moreover, the assessment is not as seamless as in other games and the quests seem artificial to the point of looking like traditional mathematical problems.

Radix, in my opinion, is a perfect example of what I often refer to as a "great idea subverted by education people." A concept of a quest game that was adapted to deliver traditional learning examples and assessment problems in a more attractive and nice packaging than a paper and a pen. However, It is certainly a step in a right direction. It is a perfect example of slow evolution of education that Edys Quellmalz refers to in one of the interviews of this week.

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